La Liga Lowdown
How Do You Resolve A Problem Like The 2019/20 LaLiga Season?
Written by Matt Clark
With the COVID-19 pandemic engulfing the world and changing daily life in myriad ways, sport too, has hit the buffers.
While low on the relative scale of importance in a global emergency, the indefinite break to fixtures poses problems for the governing bodies of football – namely, can the season be completed? If not, how will the key positions be resolved, from the title, to European qualification to relegation? Needless to say, there are vast financial and sporting destinies at stake here, but this is an outline of what may happen if the worst-case scenario is realised.
DESTINY OF THE TITLE
In terms of the title, it had been a far closer race than in some other major leagues this season, changing hands multiple times. Barcelona edged in front before the suspension, but Real Madrid have the better head-to-head record after both Clásicos have been played. After a 0-0 stalemate at Camp Nou before Christmas, Real won 2-0 at Santiago Bernabéu at the start of March. But is it fair to give Real Madrid the title based on two games? Well, theoretically yes, and the precedent is there; whenever two sides are level on points, the head-to-head matches are the determining factor in LaLiga. If it is ruled that games cannot be completed, Real Madrid should be awarded the title.
What about Europe? Again, multiple teams have shown intentions of being involved in the battle for European qualification. The current standings have Sevilla and Real Sociedad in Champions League places, with Getafe, Atlético Madrid, and Valencia occupying the usual Europa League qualifying spots. For the purposes of this hypothetical argument, it is assumed that Villarreal (on a bad run of form before the suspension) would not be able to bridge the four-point gap to Valencia.
Therefore, a mini-league between those first five clubs is devised, taking into account games between those clubs only. One limitation of this calculation is that some teams have played more matches against those around them than others. This problem is overcome by taking the points attained per game (PPG) into account. Reassuringly, perhaps, the positions of the clubs do not change significantly.
The grid below shows the results of matches between these five teams. The grey boxes indicate matches that have not yet been played. As you can see, these account for a quarter of all games between these clubs, hence the necessity to ascertain the PPG. Another problem is home-v-away discrepancy. Take Getafe, for example, who have played all of their (theoretically harder) away games against close rivals, but two of their home games have not been played, which puts them at a slight disadvantage. However, adding more layers of mathematical calculations to account for potential matches seems problematic too.
As you can decipher from the table, Sevilla lead the way by a comfortable margin. Three clubs are level on points, but Real Sociedad make up the top four courtesy of a better points-per-game ratio than Getafe and Atleti. Valencia stay seventh, but there is an important caveat to note. If the Copa del Rey final is completed, the winner will determine whether Valencia play European football or not. If Real Sociedad win, Valencia will qualify as seventh spot in the league is opened up. However, if Athletic Club were to win, they would qualify and their lower position in the table would mean seventh place is not enough for a European place.
“This is not fair” some fans may say, particularly supporters of Geta or Atleti. As an added check, a smaller mini-league between those three clubs is also analysed.
Once again, they cannot be separated on points or even PPG, but La Real still come out on top courtesy of a better goal difference. So both methods have Real Sociedad taking the much-coveted final Champions League spot, which strengthens the trust in this outcome.
One of the hardest things to decide without completed fixtures is the relegation scrap. Given the implications for clubs, their staff, fans and perhaps even their communities, relegation can be crippling. The table at the time of the suspension is shown below, with Real Valladolid only four points above the danger zone.
The same methods are applied to the relegation places; only games between these six clubs are accounted for. Yes, this does mean that Eibar’s impressive wins against Sevilla and Atleti, as well as Mallorca’s triumph over Real Madrid, are discounted. But as the old cliché goes, these are often ‘bonus’ games, and survival will be decided by games against those around you. With this in mind, here is the grid of results and subsequent table:
As with the European places mini-league, a lot of these fixtures have not yet been played, almost a third (9/30). Therefore, the PPG will be the main determining factor. As seen in the table, the results are quite dramatic, with Mallorca and Leganés climbing to safety, while Eibar and Celta sadly drop down. Espanyol’s position is unchanged. Real Valladolid have a very impressive record in games against those around them, and stay safe by a clear margin.
The scenarios presented here are not desirable solutions. Hope remains that the fixtures can be completed in some way. But in the worst-case scenario that they cannot, this is a consistent way to resolve the critical positions in LaLiga.
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